Holistic Spirit and Vision Quest

A few months ago, I began work on a new course for Lynda.com, Foundations of Branding. Okay, I admit, I wanted to call it something more unique such as Foundations of Holistic Spirit and Vision, but Branding was more understandable. I did this course because I've heard too many designers struggling and working with a client on one project, then never again. It takes three times as much time and money to engage a new client than working with an existing one. When we are incorporated into the bigger picture and broader vision of a company, we can collaborate with a longer relationship. It's better for both sides.

It's fun to create examples like a standards manual for a fake college, in this case Medfield. But, working on these courses is hard. If I were a writer I could bang them out, but they take me forever. I obsess over the image assets, "Is that chart clear enough, does it help the viewer understand?" The biggest hurdle was worrying about what others might think. I know someone out there is saying, "Oh that moron, that's not how you handle determining audiences." I had to let that fear go, and just do my best. The two sides of the coin are: being criticized by someone cranky, or helping a designer do better and expand his or her role. My choice is pretty obvious.

The Oldest Living Rubylith User

Several weeks ago, I was asked to do a short segment for the 25th Anniversary of Photoshop. It sounded fun until I was told I would need to demonstrate some of the tools used before Photoshop. First, this was an honor and scary at the same time. It was wonderful to be asked, but was I the last living designer who remembers what a rubylith was? And then the thought of showing how we used these tools after 25 years was challenging. But, what the heck? If I got any of it wrong, I was the last one alive to know.

During the shoot, I realized that the rapidographs weren't working and I didn't have a true square edge to the drafting table. I hoped that nobody would notice this. But I was surprised how quickly I recalled the process. I didn't have time to mix the rubber cement to the right consistency, or cut the ruby exactly (you'll know what that means if you are old). I liked how meditative the process was. It was slow and careful, a true craft. My hands even got dirty with ink and rubber cement boogers.

When I was finished with my demonstration, I kind of missed the old days of typesetting, the waxing machine, and the quiet concentration of making a mechanical. I recall going to AIGA events in New York in my early 20s. I would see Massimo Vignelli who was always kind and oddly remembered my name. He was flawless in his Massimo simple black and white clothes. Or Ken Carbone, who was also dressed in the most relentlessly crisp white shirts. I had my khakis, pink oxfords, and repp ties with bits of rubber cement, glue, and pieces of tape. I could never understand how everyone else stayed so clean. That was the true secret of life before Photoshop.

The Meaning of a Second

Like most of you, I have a closet of plastic shoeboxes filled with printed photos. Last week began scanning many of them. One of them is the image above of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and me sitting on the steps with dappled light. It's not particularly well composed, but it feels like summer. It reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford looks through his own family photos. For a second, the light dappling on the subject of the photo he holds begins to move.

That scene has its roots in Chris Marker's La Jettée. La Jetée is the story later remade into 12 Monkeys. It was created with only still images, no motion. But there is one moment in the film when, for a brief second, one of the characters opens her eyes. Then the film continues with the series of still images.

A similar concept is used in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. A series of black and white photographs display the sequence of events of a murder. There is no motion, but the sound of the trees is added to strengthen the narrative. The effect in all of these is an increased sense of connection for the viewer.

I may be simple, but it's those quiet moves that I like in a film. I'm okay with blowing up spaceships too, but I think Guardians of the Galaxy would have been improved with a sequence of still images and the sound of trees.

sequence begins at 1:00

Blade Runner

Blow Up, sequence begins at 1:15

Nothing

I'll keep this simple. I like work that doesn't try too hard. It's so easy to work on a project until I've beaten every last bit of life from it. It's good to know when to stop. And the work I like best looks like the designer did one thing like set the type in Akzidenz Grotesk and then said, "Yeah, I'm done." Perfect.

Young designers tell me all the time, "Are you sure, it seems empty." But the idea makes it full, and in fact it's not empty, it's filled with a ton of negative space. I think of it like dark energy and dark matter. It's strong enough to hold everything together. I deeply covet Richard Danne's desk calendar from 1974. I think there's that place in hell that I've mentioned before (the one where amateur musicians pull a guitar out at a party) for people who steal. But, I'd steal it.

All of these projects are confident and clear. They resonate with harmony because every tiny detail has been refined, refined, and refined. So try this on your next project. Do one thing and stop. It'll be hard and the evil workings of layers in Photoshop or Illustrator will be calling, "Add more, add more." Resist.

Refined Manners

Here's one of the differences between being a surgeon and a designer: surgeons are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details. If they are, in most probability, people live and have healthy outcomes. Designers are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details also. If we are, nobody except another OCD designer notices. The upside is that bad word-spacing doesn't kill people.

I can spend hours kerning the crap out of a headline. Does anyone apart from me care, or notice? Probably not. We zoom in to a gazillion percent to make sure a point is absolutely precise, obsess over the difference between Adobe Bodoni and Monotype Bodoni. But of we didn't, we'd be slobs and hack designers, and it wouldn't be as much fun.

Herb Lester Associates produces a wonderful collection of guides to different cities. Let's face it, most city guides look like the Map to the Stars Homes. The Herb Lester guides are not only pertinent to travelers who prefer something more interesting than mobbed, but are detailed to death. Every tiny piece of type has been considered. The illustrations are wonderful and change from map to map. I know the designers were working on a the files at 400%, and it shows. Even the packing tape on the envelope is a work of art (which I plan to steal).

In this instance, I noticed. Every thoughtful and beautifully crafted detail adds to the overall extraordinariness of the guides. The lesson here, go ahead and fine tune the shit out of the details. If only one person in the world sees it, you've succeeded.

Not a Prostitute on the Ground

1193185249_1 image.adapt.960.high

 

I was talking with a friend yesterday who told me he was tired and depressed. He felt like he was in a rut, getting older, wasn't in a relationship, and just felt crummy. I tried to help by pointing out that he had a new orange shirt which was very nice and a new pair of gym shorts. I told him that getting older wasn't bad, since the alternative wasn't so good. And I suggested he should be glad he wasn't in a relationship. What if he were, and went home to be beaten every night. "See," I said, "You're lucky. You have a new shirt, aren't dead, and nobody is beating you at home every night."

This advice wasn't particularly helpful. Even I could tell that the "Glad Game" wasn't working. So I told him to go home and watch any Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland movie. Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway are especially cheerful. You know the standard plot: The orphanage is about to be sold and the poor urchins will be put on the street, so the local kids get together and decide to put a show on in the barn or street to raise money. Mickey and Judy round everyone up and their friends are all incredibly talented and hammy. They put on giant production numbers at the drop of a hat. A powerful show business executive discovers them. They raise money and the orphanage is saved.

God's Country, in Babes in Arms, has a rousing finale with lots of American flags. But my favorite is Hoe Down from Babes on Broadway. It's fresh and wholesome. It's good American farm life with a snappy rhythm. Of course, these were made right before and at the beginning of World War II. So there is a fair amount of patriotism, nostalgia for simple values, and innocent teenagers. These are a perfect antidote to those days when anyone is feeling sad.

And if that's not enough, there's always Polyanna. Don't worry, I've been told to not pursue therapy as a career.

Have patience and get through the advertisement above, it worth the wait.

 

 

Damn the Torpedoes, Full Steam Ahead!

Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka with drinks as usual

Last Friday night, Noreen and I were awarded the AIGA Medal at the AIGA Centennial Gala. As Nancye Green said after the first AIGA gala, "This is like the best high school reunion with everyone you've ever known." It was the most successful gala in AIGA's history and proves that we still care about design and designers above all else.

Michael Bierut summed up the essence of the evening by pointing out that almost every Medalist talked about someone in the room who gave them his or her first job, or someone in the room they had hired. That AIGA is about our community was made exceptionally clear at this event. There was no mean-spiritedness, envious disregard, or minimizing of another designer. Nobody had the attitude that success was finite and another's meant less for them. There was an honest sense of pride and pleasure for everyone's successes. We may think, as designers, we are competitive and cut-throat, but compared to other professions, we're pussycats and pretty damned supportive of each other.

There's been a huge amount of discourse over AIGA's direction over the last year. Last term, a student in Nicole Jacek's Art Center class asked me why there was so much arguing. But this isn't arguing. It's discourse. It's what happens when people are deeply committed and passionate. It's what every organization hopes to have. The opposite is a listless disengaged community. We have emerged from a major shift in AIGA's history that will lead to decades of stability and vitality.

As designers, we all have the predilection to critique and analyze. We may have various opinions on the day to day issues of the community, but it was clear at the gala that, in the end, we are all working to the same goal.

As I was sitting there, watching the other Medalists accept their award, I found myself feeling that sensation we all share; seeing something wonderful and having that contradictory sensation of the joy of discovery and that twinge of envy that someone else made it. I tend to use one too many sailing metaphors, but in this instance, going forward, I can only think of Franklin Roosevelt's quote, “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”

Angela Jimenez Photography:

Chip Kidd, April Greiman, Jim Cross, Agustin Garza, Dana Arnett, Jennifer Morla, Sean Adams, Michael Vanderbyl, photo: Jennifer Sterling

Leslie Smolan, Ken Carbone, Anne Willoughby, Sean Adams

Jennifer Morla, Eric Madsen, Michael Vanderbyl

Seam Adams, Kim Rogala, Pam Williams, Marylou Domian, Lisa House

Noreen not drunk

AIGA Medalists

table centerpiece

 

Let's try that once more

 

I'm making a new course for Lynda.com. This course, Fundamentals of Layout: Marketing Collateral, gave me the chance to talk about issue such as designing a letterhead, business card, poster, even swag. I wrote the course, did the read throughs, and created the visual assets. I thought I was so all together.

For this course, we relied mostly on visual references and text slides. This meant I spent less time in front of the camera and more in the sound booth recording the voice-over. I did, however, need to film the introductions and conclusions to each movie. This all seemed like no problem until I realized that I couldn't use a teleprompter for these. I needed to memorize each of the sections of the scripts that had live action. Now this doesn't sound too hard. I wrote them, I know what I'm talking about. But it was one of the most harrowing days of my life. It was like a 12 hour day having a root canal.

Take after take, I would stumble through, getting 25 % right, or 75%, but never perfect. I had that disembodied feeling like my mouth kept moving and making odd sounds that seemed like words but made no sense. The more I goofed up, the more freaked out I was. My producer, Susan, was beyond patient and encouraging, telling me in my headset, "No problem, we'll get there," and, "That was great." But I'm sure she wanted to blow her brains out sitting in the production room. I kept thinking about the scene in Inside Daisy Clover when Daisy (Natalie Wood) freaks out doing a dubbing. I stopped short of clawing at the window screaming.

The Avant Garde in Felt

Sean Adams, AIGA 100 project: 1955

A few weeks ago, I was asked to create a solution for an AIGA project celebrating the 100 year anniversary. 100 designers were asked to choose a year, and design a piece that highlighted an event from that year. Michael Bierut got to 1968 before I could, so I took 1955. In 1955, the Ford Thunderbird was released and Disneyland opened. Obviously, Disneyland ended up as my subject.

As a roundabout explanation of the process, I've been a huge Cathy of California fan for years. I was having lunch at our local groovy Los Feliz Mexican restaurant, Mexico City, when I recognized Cathy Callahan herself. I'm not easily impressed by celebrity. I've met my share of famous actors and such. But I was super freaked meeting Cathy in real life and probably a babbling fool.

Around the time I started the 1955 project, I bought Cathy's book, Vintage Craft Workshop: Fresh Takes on Twenty-Four Classic Projects from the '60s and '70s. Something clicked, or broke, in my brain, and I decided to make my piece out of craft materials. It seemed fitting for a 1955 concept and I obviously have too much time on my hands. I could have cheated and Photoshopped the whole thing from stock images, but I actually went to Michael's craft supplies (that was a terrifying experience) and bought stuff.

I cut up my felt, raffia, burlap, and glitter paper. I found old buttons and cufflinks. I used the hot glue gun to attach the stuff to the burlap (which smells weird), and voila. I know most designers are looking for a cutting edge, an extreme approach to the avant grade, and the next big thing. I now have clear evidence that I am as far from hip and cutting edge as Lawrence Welk or Barry Goldwater. At the same time, I think my craft solution this proves that I am incredibly brave or, more likely, clueless.

Untitled-3 Untitled-2 Untitled-1 Untitled-49780811875325_p0_v1_s600

Yes, It Can Be This Good

This could be YOUR home

I've had many conversations with designers who want to start making products. "I was thinking it would be cool to make stationery and paper goods for people," is the most common concept. This sounds nice, but there really are too many stationery and paper goods things out there already. That doesn't mean we don't talk about it as well. I'm always up for diversification. My ideas tend to not go very far.

First, I wanted to open a brothel that was nicely designed. I imagined a "W" Hotel kind of brothel, not the kind in old mobile homes with flocked red wallpaper. As it turns out, this is illegal in California. And Noreen wasn't that keen on the concept.

Then I wanted to make a bar for alcoholics. It seems like total sobriety is rather severe, so why not make a bar where the drinks are super weak. You could have ten cocktails and still be fine. Also, we would make more money because the drinks were watered down. This idea didn't work either. I now know that you can't give alcoholics just a little drink.

Noreen solved the problem when she realized we had products already. Twenty years of posters that people buy from us already. We thought about making a section of our website a shop, but that's a lot of work. So we went to people who already know what they are doing and have great taste. Our friends, Doug Jaeger and Kristin Sloan have a fantastic online store. Now anyone can buy limited edition AdamsMorioka posters and wallpaper entire rooms. And it doesn't encourage alcoholism or prostitution.

 

Show your friends your fine taste

Kitchens should be cheerful

Variation is the spice of life

Compositions by the Sea

Foundations of Layout, Lynda.com

A few months ago, my friend Terry Lee Stone suggested that I do a course for Lynda.com. I've known Lynda Weinman for years. We served on the AIGA national board together. She's one of the smartest people I know, and Kristin Ellison, who has been my editor on several books was joining Lynda.com. So I knew I could trust everyone. I liked the idea of teaching to a wide audience of people. Lynda.com has over 2.5 million members.

I went out to the huge and impressive  production facility and headquarters near Santa Barbara to do a screen test. I thought about saying "I don't do screen tests," but that sounded a little too Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. I had a little trouble convincing the make-up person that the white people makeup made me look like someone from The Walking Dead and I was actually not that pale. Fortunately it worked and they weren't revolted.

I started working on a course, Foundations of Layout. I thought it would be easy. I've been doing layouts for a long, long, long time. But each movie covers one piece of the puzzle: scale, grids, imagery, etc.. It was like teaching someone how to walk. You do it every day so you forget all the individual things that work together to make your legs move and body stay upright.

I didn't expect it to be as rewarding as it was. I had to go back and distill an idea like harmony into something understandable and digestible. After doing that, I remembered things I'd long ago forgotten. It helped me as a designer and teacher at Art Center.

I spent a week at the studios working with a cracker jack crew. I became obsessed that my hair looked like an old woman's hairdo and they had the crappy job of persuading me otherwise. Of course nobody likes to watch themselves on camera, myself included. But if I get past my old woman hair I'm really pleased with the result. And that has everything to do with the people at Lynda.com.

old lady hair

 

Design Sexy Time

Paul Hesse photo  

When I was in college, a visiting artist gave a presentation on "Sex in Advertising." As this was in the midst of the women's art movement and high critical thinking, the audience expected a relentless assault on the horrors of sexuality in advertising and design. Instead, the artist presented an intelligent examination. She discussed issues such as objectification, subjugation, and patriarchy. But she also talked about less black and white points like seduction, human nature, beauty, and the power of primary impulses such as sex and eating. When she turned from the attitude du jour of the evils of sex and began to explore the possibility that sex might be positive, the audience responded with outrage. They stomped out of the theater in disgust and fury. It was like a stampede of crazed buffalo.

Of course, sex in design can be detrimental and negative. But are there instances when it works? Is it okay to like a poster or ad because it is "hot." For some reason, a large proportion of older male designers in the 1960s and 70s retired and made fine art that was really just thinly disguised soft core porn. Henry Wolf used imagery that might work in Playboy on mainstream advertising.

I've always liked the definition that "good" is about creation and construction, "evil" is about destruction and making someone "less than." Perhaps this is the filter to view this type of work. Is the subject glorified and celebrated, or minimized and objectified?

Milton Glaser

Henry Wolf

Advertising 1950s

Navy Recruitment poster, WWII

Henry Wolf

J.C. Leyendecker

Colin Forbes

J.C. Leyendecker

Tadanori Yokoo

Victor Moscoso

Robert Brownjohn

Men's Fashion, 1978

Peter Behrens

Aubrey Beardsley

Take Care. The Flesh is The Grass.

the hidden message

Clearly, there was a "War on Children" in the 1970s. This was a covert and widespread conspiracy to infiltrate our minds with complicated subliminal ideas and confuse us with non-sensical connections. If you're old enough, you remember the nuclear war film from middle school. It told us that we would:

1. Probably have to be in a shelter with people we didn't know.

2. Put on a radiation suit and take freshly dead people outside every morning, even if they were your loved ones

3. Determine who was too far gone and immediately cease care

4. Assign someone for latrine duty to discard human waste outside in the radiation zone

Obviously, sneaking this in between Shock and Its Symptoms and Compound Fractures and Splints was a way to subliminally terrorize us.

I recently found an old chemistry textbook that also seems to have a hidden agenda to cause disturbing dreams and paranoid delusions. I especially like the text innocently placed like a caption that reads "Flesh is Grass". What in the name of God does that mean? It sounds like line from  A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's creepy and clearly written by someone very, very sick.

There is a super strange tongue diagram that makes me want to try to find these alien growths on my tongue and scrape them off. And finally a bizarre diagram that tells me poison gas and soldiers equals a tasty dinner. WTF? I like the seemingly harmless and nice illustrations of disparate elements (or are they subliminal metaphorical symbols that might be used to "activate" us in the future?).

If you have any doubt about this evil subliminal campaign, consider the McDonald's characters: Hamburglar, Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Early Bird, Captain Crook, Fry Kids, and Uncle O'Grimacey

these growths may be on your tongue

why children have night terrors

gassed soldiers create tasty meals

Freudian symbols

good endpaper

The evil Grimace

The Delighters

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

In my own town people know me, so they just think, "Oh yeah, Sean, what a nitwit." But in other cities they may not have yet figured this out. So I am treated either  with warmth or derision. That's all fine. The worse case scenario is when someone assumes I must be a super serious designer. Sitting at dinner next to a designer who is insists on discussing the current state of design is kind of dull. I'd rather know who is sleeping with whom at the table. Actually, the worse, worse case scenario is sitting next to a communist. This happened once. We didn't get along.

When someone rambles on about design being of service to business and how no design can be judged without looking at effectiveness I want to go to the bathroom and slit my wrists just for excitement. Yes, I agree design is a critical component of success in business. Design should be judged by its effectiveness.

But where does that leave the work that I love that really wasn't that effective? Does that mean I shouldn't begin making form until I've filled a wall with post-it notes and focus group studies? Here's the dirty little secret: sometimes I make things just because I want to.

When our great friend, Terry Lee Stone, asked us to design a series of books for her on Managing the Design Process I immediately started thinking about graphs and simple shapes. The end product may not be purely functional or effective. But I sure had fun designing it. A friend sent me a link to Franz Ferdinand's video for Right Action and said it was similar, so it must be cool. Maybe its okay for design to be effective, and once in awhile simply about designers making something wonderful.

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

1992 in Black and White

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

While I think wikipedia is a swell tool sometimes, it is not an educational substitute. Each term in my foundation class at Art Center I give an assignment that requires research. This term the students returned with presentations on politics and photography. It's obvious which ones are just reading from wikipedia: "Social documentary photography is the recording of humans in their natural condition with a camera. Often it also refers to a socially critical genre of photography dedicated to showing the life of underprivileged or disadvantaged people." My response, "And...?"

I used to assign a film poster which required watching a movie outside of the class room. How hard is that? It's not reading Joseph Conrad. Then I found that people were only watching snippets on YouTube. So now, we watch the whole movie in class. This makes me feel like Bad Teacher.

In contrast to this is the enormous energy and effort that Robert Cha put into this publication. Robert worked on the Fires in Our Time book as an independent study with me. When he mentioned the 1992 L.A. Riots as a subject I expected a nice 18 page booklet with big headlines and photos. Instead, Robert created a relentlessly dense document that reports and deconstructs the riots. 300 pages of interviews, newspaper reports, television, and first hand accounts. This enormous amount of information would be enough, but Robert then applied a design solution that did not try to aestheticize the issue. His book dogmatically sticks to a rigid rule system. Each type of information is assigned a typeface, size, and position. The final result are pages that feel like elements slamming against each other, none willing to compromise.

Many issues and multiple viewpoints collided in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict. The riots were more than one thing. To minimize them and assign a pithy one line answer is a disservice to the complexity of the ongoing problem. Robert's book is the best example of this put into concrete form.

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

 

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

Robert Cha, Fires in Our Time, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Doing Nothing

Charles Coiner, Give It Your Best, poster, 1942

The problem with effort and good design is that the best solutions looks like they takes very little work. The solution appears natural and effortless. The worst work are the solutions that are over-designed, over-produced, over-wrought, and desperate. But, civilians will look at the ABC logo and say, "So what? What took so long? I could have done that." The logo that is an illustration of a person with raised hands on top of a globe with all nations color coded and series of stars that wraps around the globe, sitting on a word mark of tortured typography is praised, "Boy that must have taken a long time."

Charles Coiner's World War II poster, Give it Your Best, is one of these examples. It's so obvious and straightforward that it appears that no design happened. But, the poster leaves nobody guessing at the message, is visually aggressive and powerful, and stands the test of time. Works for me.

And while we're on the subject of World War II posters, I can't resist discussing the series, This is Your Friend. These posters were created to help our troops understand what our allies looked like so we wouldn't shoot them. The Chinese were our allies; they were not Japanese who were our enemies. The English,and Australian men wore these specific hats and were not German. I like that they try so hard to make clear what could be difficult; if someone was caucasian and blonde were they German? Not if they had a smile and tam-o-shanter hat. They were clearly Canadian.

But the poor Dutch. Why only a Dutch sailor? If they weren't sailors and Dutch were they dangerous? And I don't want to sound mean, but couldn't the War Office find a strapping young and handsome Dutch man? I'm pretty sure there were other options here. If a student tuned this in I would say, "You need to stop using Google as a research tool and using low resolution bad images."

WWII Canadian poster, 1942

WWII Russian poster, 1942

WWII Ethiopian poster, 1942

WWII Dutch Sailor poster, 1942

WWII Australian poster, 1942

WWII English poster, 1942

WWII Chinese poster, 1942

Sideways

Gan Hosaya, 1969, ad  

There are times when a project just looks bad, like dog crap. I slave over it endlessly, and then I realize all it needs is to be turned on its side or upside down. Voila, it works. That's the issue when you don't print anything out and only see it on a screen. Sure you can turn your screen upside down or turn it on its side, but that could result in dropping it. The easiest solution is to send a file to print and than flip that baby around in all directions. What was once banal and expected becomes avant-garde and unsettling.

I love work that is sideways or upside down. It gets away from the standard point of view that we have in everyday life which is straight on from about 5 or 6 feet tall. Miraculously, you can see a different view from above or below, or lying on the ground and seeing the world on its side. This is why God gave people bendable joints. Photography at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s took advantage of this ad-nauseum. It was as if everyone there was climbing up the walls and hanging from the balconies. But the images are wonderful.

Posters and ads with moving vehicles are especially adaptable to this technique. Gan Hosaya's 1969 poster for Yamaha is one of my absolute favorite pieces of design ever produced. Think how dull it might have been if he simply let the image be turned 90 degrees. So the next time you're out taking photos, climb up on a table and shoot everyone from above. You'll be asked to leave, but end up with a snappy photo that isn't the same head and shoulders of someone holding a drink.

 

Martin Munkasci, 1935

Diving at the Valley Baths, Brisbane, Queensland, 1938

Paul Rand, Apparel Arts cover

Herbert Matter, 1935

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Max Huber, 1957

Max Huber, 1948

Joseph Binder, Graphis magazine, 1948

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926

The Joyous Ecstasy of Wrongness

At times I feel like a traitor. I hate design. I drive to work and see a cool and hip poster and think, “Oh, yeah, seen that a thousand times.” I’ll work on an identity and create an incredibly clever solution such as when a “P” is also cat, or a comma, or a flying nun. I want to throw up.

This is when I realize its time to forget logic, clever solutions, puns, and the “correct” approach. And I do something really wrong. Now, what is wrong? Of course, hurting others emotionally is wrong (or so I’ve been told). In design, it seems that the wrong thing to do is to forget the rules and do something wonderful that makes no sense. Some of you are already getting angry and thinking, “Damn, damn, damn, well that’s just art.” See, it’s wrong.

One of my favorite examples is the campaign for the movie Where It’s At from 1969. I haven’t seen this movie and I have no desire to see it. But the posters are really, really, really bizarre. The designer took the psychedelic approach and teamed it with PushPin, children’s board game graphics, and European “Art” film (code for topless) imagery. These posters have everything one could want in a poster. Forget the poster solution of a clever one color solid shape of a comb that is also a crucifix; this is the joyous ecstasy of wrong.

Sweeter than Sweet

Conniff Up_Up_And_Away

I truly think I'm losing my mind. Yesterday, I stumbled across the Ray Conniff Singers. Of course, I have a few Ray Conniff albums. Who doesn't? But I never knew about the singers. First, the album covers are a symphony of blurry women. Each cover employees the lovely gauze filter that was popular for high school senior portraits when I was eighteen. I think it's time this style returns to fashion. I don't know why everyone is blurry. I understand watching Dynasty and the screen goes extremely soft when Joan Collins appears. The blurry effect is a good way to hide old age. Nobody would guess she isn't twenty-two. The Ray Conniff album women are young, so that doesn't apply. Perhaps they were embarrassed and requested a soft focus for recognition issues.

Second, the music. I thought I knew sweet and saccharine. I consider myself rather an aficionado of square and unhip, but this music transcends even my expertise. Their rendition of Up, Up, and Away is alarmingly nice and happy. It's truly sickening and could drive sane people to torture. It is, however, a wonderful tool with teenagers. If you have one, or two, play this in the car when driving them around. Insist on singing along if friends are there also. This is a sure fire way to help any teen step away from the dark side and become pleasant.